Oh Bollards!

It’s June 30, 2007. You are standing outside the doors to the terminal at Glasgow International Airport. It’s 3:11 in the afternoon. It’s raining, a little bit. The ground is wet as cars drive past.

Then, all of a sudden, a dark green Jeep Grand Cherokee approaches. It’s going too fast. It shouldn’t be going that fast. There are two men inside. It’s headed straight at you, straight at the terminal. There are so many people inside.

You hold your ground. That’s your job, actually. You dig in as the jeep approaches at 30 miles per hour. It’s not gonna stop.

It’s not getting past you though. It hits you, stops immediately, and it’s on fire. The smell of gasoline is everywhere. The driver gets out. He’s on fire too, and starts walking toward the terminal. Someone inside puts him out but makes sure he stays down. Doctors will do everything they can to save him but he’ll die of his burns a few days later.

The passenger gets out and someone — a hero — tackles him to the ground. He’ll serve at least 32 years of a life sentence for his part in this. You’re a hero too. You stopped that jeep with its cans of gas and cylinders of propane from entering the terminal. But you won’t get the Queen’s Gallantry Medal or the Commendation of Bravery, like those other people. But you’re not a person, are you?

You are a post in the ground, in front of the door. Your job is to keep the bad guys in speeding cars and trucks out.

You, are a bollard.

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

The first things to be called bollards were posts on ships and wharves where they docked. Some of the earliest surviving references in literature describe their use on whaling vessels. Like this passage from The Arctic Regions and the Northern Whale-fishery from 1849, originally published in 1820:

“To retard, therefore, as much as possible, the flight of the whale, and to secure the lines, it is usual for the harpooner to cast one, two, or more turns of the line round a kind of post, called a bollard, which is fixed within ten or twelve inches of the stern of the boat for the purpose. Such is the friction of the line, when running round the bollard, that it frequently envelops the harpooner in smoke; and if the wood were not repeatedly wetted, would probably set fire to the boat.”

On land, bollards were sometimes repurposed cannon, their barrels buried in the ground. In the early 18th century they began to be used in cities for traffic management and to protect buildings against damage from carriages.

Today, bollards are everywhere, and they take many forms. You might see them on a construction site: skinny orange plastic posts on a rubber base or the bigger kind that almost look like a barrel. They can separate bike lanes from traffic. You might see a single bollard in the middle of a bike path making sure that bikes can pass but cars can’t. Sometimes they provide lighting along a foot path or are lit with signage. You might see them in parking lots, protecting things from wayward bumpers.

One of my favorite things that bollards do well is play a critical role in something called site security. Site security is basically keeping a building or campus safe from threats. It’s also about reducing the risk of terrorist attacks by car or truck.

It’s time for a little site security 101.

One way to think of site security is to break things up in to six zones from the outside in. Think of it like a castle with a moat, a wall, and a fortified keep in the middle.

Zone 1 is the neighborhood outside. You usually can’t control things here but you can work with businesses, community groups, and governments to affect stuff like traffic flow or zoning laws.

Zone 2 is your standoff perimeter. This is where you draw the line and say that no unauthorized vehicles are going to get past. This is where you make the calculation that if an explosive in a car or truck goes off, the buildings you’re protecting will be safe enough.

The perimeter can be made from walls to fences, planters, light posts, reinforced benches, and bollards, among other stuff. A well designed perimeter can be made more open and inviting with some well-placed bollards and other things that provide enough protection with a more open feel.

Zone 3 is site access and parking. This is another spot where you can use bollards to control the flow of traffic. Retractable bollards can be used to protect entrances from ramming while allowing authorized vehicles through. Retractable or collapsible bollards can also be used in pedestrian areas that might require emergency vehicle access.

Zone 4 is your site, or the area between your standoff perimeter and your buildings. The bigger this zone is the better protected you are from explosions at the perimeter. This is an opportunity to have a big public plaza, a visitors center, outdoor art, a park or a café. Benches, bollards, planters, water features, and landscaping can be used to restrict vehicle access while keeping things open and inviting.

Zone 5 is your building envelope: the outside of the buildings you’re protecting and things like air vents and entrances.

Zone 6 is management and building operations. This can be anything from moving higher risk areas deep inside buildings to surveillance and security patrol planning.

All bollards aren’t created equal. The most elite bollards are certified K12 by the Department of State. They might be buried deep in the ground or have elaborate shallow roots in urban settings. These can stop a 15,000 pound flatbed truck at 50 miles per hour. They can only allow the front of the truck bed a single meter past the bollard. That’s stopping power.

I went looking for bollards in downtown and suburban Austin, Texas. Needless to say I found a ton. I put together a photo gallery at tinycast.in/bollards. I ended up at one of the more complex site designs in Austin:

I’m outside the Texas State Capitol grounds at the standoff perimeter. There are beautiful flowers, a low wall and an ornate gate with bollards in front of it. Just to either side of me is a driveway with retractable bollards so cars can exit. The Capitol grounds also maximize the distance from the street to the building. There are paths and shade and statues and plaques. This is both successful site security design and a beautiful public space.

Overall I think bollards do a pretty excellent job at all the jobs that they do. They are definitely pretty open and pedestrian and bike friendly. The bang for buck on them usually makes a lot of sense too.

I’ll bet you see them everywhere you go today today.

You’ve been listening to The Tinycast, the place where you’re not at all surprised to hear from an anthropomorphized architectural element.

Music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, whose beats are so solid they’re rated K12. You can find them on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, or protecting street corners everywhere.

Today’s show is brought to you by audible.com where you can get a free audiobook and a 30 day free trial by visiting audible.tinycast.in. If you’re looking for books set at sea, check out Master and Commander, the first book in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien. Or try one of the Richard Bolitho novels by Douglas Reeman who writes as Alexander Kent. That’s right, even the ad copy is pedantic here. Get your free audiobook and your 30 day free trial at audible.tinycast.in.

As always, you can find tons of links to further reading at tinycast.in. You can find us in iTunes, soundcloud.com/tinycast, and hopefully wherever you are. We’re on Twitter @thetinycast, and I’m @mc. You can see a photo gallery of all the bollards I encountered at tinycast.in/bollards.

Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Further Reading


Save The Paternoster

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

These days we humans think we have skyscraper transportation all figured out. If you walk in to the lobby of a building and want to go to the 23rd floor, you know exactly what to do. You find the elevator, push the button, the doors open, you get in the car and are whisked away vertically to your destination. Need to get from one floor to another in a department store? Maybe you’ll use an escalator instead.

But there was a time before modern elevators and escalators were the de facto standards in vertical transportation. There is another kind of elevator that works completely differently than the ones you are used to. It’s a relic of that time before we figured out how to best move humans up and down inside buildings. If it were an animal it would be on the endangered species list. It’s called the paternoster.

Instead of a single car moving up and down a shaft, a paternoster, sometimes called a cyclic elevator, is a series of open-front boxes in constant motion. These boxes are connected to two belts and two giant wheels at the top and two at the bottom of the shaft. If you were to walk up to a paternoster you would see cars constantly going up on one side and down on the other.

Rather than wait for the elevator doors to open, you just pick a direction, find an empty car, and hop on. When you get to the floor you want to go to, you hop off.

To understand why the paternoster is in trouble, you have to understand its way more popular older brother, the elevator. The era of the modern elevator probably began at the Worlds Fair at the Crystal Palace in New York City. Here in 1853 Elisha Otis dramatically demonstrated his new elevator safety brake. He stood on a platform high above the crowd. His son cut the rope holding the platform aloft. His device brought the platform to a swift stop.

This demonstration and the publicity around it turned the tide of public opinion. Riding on a platform suspended from a cable turned from the stuff of daring to a part of everyday life in America over the next decades.

Things were a little different in Europe. They looked on with interest and a little terror at what those crazy industrialist Americans were doing. Cities in Europe were much older than places like New York and Chicago. Laws, like the London Building Act of 1894 and others like it throughout Europe often capped building height. This was often for firefighting or safety reasons, preserving city layout and architecture, or a combination of those.

Without a need to optimize the vertical transport of humans to dizzying heights, engineers and architects in Europe were solving an essentially different problem.

The paternoster, or something very close to it was invented by Peter Ellis and installed in Oriel Chambers in Liverpool in 1868. Ellis designed and built the building a few years earlier to replace another that had burned to the ground. His “fireproof” iron and glass design was one of the earliest metal and glass curtain wall buildings ever built. It was bright and airy and way ahead of its time. It was also poorly received by local architects and tastemakers. In the 1960’s, architect and author Quentin Hughes guessed that this poor reception to Ellis’ architecture ultimately led him to focus less on buildings and more on civil and mechanical engineering.

By 1873, Ellis had stopped paying stamp duties on his patent and it became invalid. In 1877 Peter Hart obtained a patent for what would be called Hart’s Cyclic Elevator. As far as anyone can tell it’s really just a minor variation on Ellis’ earlier design, and two members of the Liverpool Historical Society believe that Ellis was paid to let his patent lapse. Hart’s Cyclic Elevator is described in an issue of Scientific American Supplement in 1882 and compared to a chain of pots, except, you know, big enough for people.

Paternosters become popular in England, and were brought to Germany by Freiherr von Ohlendorff, a merchant who had a paternoster installed in Hamburg in 1885. The paternoster caught on with the bureaucracy, and maybe 250 of them remain throughout Germany today.

But they’re under constant threat of disappearing forever. New construction of paternosters was forbidden in Germany in 1974 and they were almost banned completely in 1994. Only the outcry of paternoster-lovers kept that from happening. More recently, laws went into effect on June 1st, 2015 that prohibited their use by anyone who hadn’t taken a class in how to use them safely. Sanity prevailed later that month and on June 24th, Cabinet ministers decided that anyone could again ride the paternosters as long as there were enough warning signs nearby.

There are still a handful of paternosters in England. The tallest is in the Attenborough Building at the University of Leicester. There’s one in Northwick Park Hospital in London too, but you can’t ride it. Paternosters were also popular in Prague, and a handful are still running there, but so many more have been shut down throughout Europe.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a dorky kind of Lorax, and I speak for the paternosters. Folks are quick to characterize them as dangerous or scary, but when you think about it, getting in and out of a paternoster is probably a lot like getting on or off an escalator.

So ride them while you can, if you’re nearby. Ride one on your next trip if that’s what it takes. They’re resilient little machines that have been on the edge of extinction for as long as I’ve known about them, and they’re fiercely defended by the people that love riding them.

If you want to stand in solidarity with the paternoster, send me a tweet @mc or @thetinycast. The first five people to mention paternoster will get a SAVE THE PATERNOSTER sticker mailed to them. If you want one for yourself you can grab it at tinycast.in/shop.

You have been listening to The Tinycast, the little podcast that goes around and around about interesting things. If you’d like to know more about Elisha Otis and his safety brake, I highly recommend you find the episode Six Stories on 99% Invisible or The Memory Palace. It’s pretty fantastic.

I have a ton of links to books, videos, articles from the 19th century and other stuff on our website, tinycast.in. Check it out if you want to dig deeper.

Your ears do not deceive you. Music for today’s show is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. You can find more of his stuff on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and on podcasts like Reply All and Welcome to Macintosh. This episode also features the field recording A Paternoster at Charles University, Prague by Steven Dye and found on Sound Transit.

Today’s show is brought to you by audible.com where you can get a free audiobook and a 30 day free trial by visiting audible.tinycast.in. Might I suggest Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or, perhaps The Ersatz Elevator, book 6 in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Get your free trial at audible.tinycast.in.

You can find us in iTunes, soundcloud.com/tinycast, on Twitter, and hopefully wherever you are. If you know someone that would enjoy the show, do me a favor and tell them about it.

Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Further Reading

What Your One-Person Podcast can Learn from 99 Percent Invisible in 37 Easy Steps

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

I’m always looking for ways to make this show better. I read about how other people make podcasts. I learn about how people make Radio, and how people improve whatever it is that they do.

Recently there was a gathering of podcasters. Quite possibly the highest concentration of podcasters this earth has ever seen. Im talking about Podcast Movement 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. I wasn’t able to go, but thanks to social media and Periscope, I learned a lot anyway.

One of my favorite sessions, not surprisingly, was by Roman Mars. You might recognize him from 99 Percent Invisible, Radiotopia, or that TED talk about flags. You should go watch that TED talk about flags.

He opened with a miniature episode of 99 Percent Invisible. He then boiled down all the questions he gets in to just one: “How do I get to do what you do.”

In the process of answering this question, he hit on what is probably the best explanation of how great radio is made. In one slide, he walked through the 37 steps between having an idea and hitting the publish button.

Don’t worry, it’s not that scary. At least two of these steps involve eating at a Pakistani buffet. But this slide captures more than anything else the sheer amount of work that goes in to making great radio.

To paraphrase the great Helen Zaltzman: podcasting is a crap hobby but a great job. It turns out that I’m pretty bad at picking hobbies.

It takes a bunch of people to make a 99 Percent Invisible episode. There are a lot of parallels between their process and what I’ve read about how other great radio is made, whether it’s This American Life or a story for NPR.

As someone who tries to make great radio all on my own, I think a lot of this can be scaled down to a one person show.

Okay here we go.

  • If you can, if your format allows for it, write a script in your own voice. When I’m writing a script for this show, I can hear myself saying it as I write. I think that’s a good thing.
  • Once you’ve written your script you can now do the most important thing you can possibly do. You edit. And you edit again. Then you can go to the Pakistani buffet. When you get back it’s time to edit some more. Read the script out loud to yourself. I’ll bet you’ll find something that doesn’t work or doesn’t flow. Edit.
  • If your show is more conversational, make sure you have a solid outline or a good idea of what you want to get out of it before you start. Don’t be afraid to edit when you’re done, either. Does it really need to be two hours? An hour? Forty-five minutes? Are there any side conversations that are really a distraction from the main idea?
  • If you can, have a friend or loved one listen to you read your script before recording. Look for when their eyes glaze over. Ask them when you lost them or if anything wasn’t clear. If you’re trying to get a point across, ask them to explain it back to you. If they can’t, you still have work to do.
  • Another thing you can do during the editing process is have someone read your script and offer suggestions. I use Google Docs for this, but it could be a piece of paper or an email. Whatever works.
  • I’m always brainstorming ideas for the show. Any time I have an idea, I add a line or two to a note on my phone. You can’t have a show without an idea.
  • Another thing that works for me is to have multiple episodes in various stages of production. I might be researching one episode while writing a script for another. Or I might be auditioning music beds for one while doing a rough edit of the vocal track for another.
  • The final mix is crucial too. Before you hit publish make sure you “walk the mix” to as many places you can think of that people might listen to your show. For me that’s usually speakers, my Sony 7506 headphones, Apple earbuds, and in the car.

If all of this sounds fascinating and all the work sounds worth it, give it a go for yourself. Put your voice to tape. Get it out there. Don’t worry about all this other stuff. My guess is that you’ll get hooked and want to do it better next time. And better the time after that. It’s a wonderful rabbit hole called radio. Or podcasting.

To give you an idea of how bad you can be when you start, here’s a clip from the first Tinycast episode just about a year ago:

What is the Tinycast? I’m not sure yet but I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to figure it out as I go along. My current hypothesis is that it’s a short podcast, maybe 30-60 seconds to a couple of minutes or so produced with mobile gear but striving for a professional podcast.

This was recorded in the front seat of my car. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. And of course, I still have a long way to go.

If you want to learn more, a great place to start is Transom.org. You can pretty much read that site cover to cover. Another place to start is This American Life’s Make Radio page. I’ll add links and other resources to the show notes at tinycast.in. I also wrote up my current production process over at postneo.com. It might be really interesting or really boring, depending on what you’re in to.

Today’s show is brought to you by audible.com where you can get a free audiobook and a 30 day free trial by visiting audible.tinycast.in. Remember The Wright Brothers by David McCullough? Yeah, they have that, and a whole lot more. Get your free trial at audible.tinycast.in.

Music for today’s show is by Podington Bear. You can hear more of his stuff at podingtonbear.com and soundofpicture.com. (Songs include SonstigesBoopThe Scuplture, and Filaments.) You can find us on Twitter @thetinycast, or I’m @mc. We should also be wherever it is that you get your podcast fix. If we’re not, let us know.

Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.


Don’t Catalog a Book by its Cover

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

Libraries have books. A lot of books. Librarians need to know where to put them and the general public needs to know where to find them. This has been a problem in need of a solution since before the existence of books themselves.

If you had asked me how to catalog non-fiction books when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I would have told you emphatically that there was only one way: the Dewey Decimal System. The Dewey Decimal System dominates the library catalog scene — at least in the United States — at the elementary and public library levels. It’s what I encountered at school and when I hung out at the public library.

One of the things that makes the Dewey Decimal System so great is that it does an efficient job at conveying a lot about the subject of a book with just three numerals, and decimals allow librarians to be specific. This also helps define an exact way that books should be ordered on the shelf.

Zero starts off with general works, computer science, and other general information. This is often the dark corner of the library where you’ll find me. 100 is Philosophy and Psychology, which includes a lot of crazy paranormal and occult stuff around 130. 200 is religion, 300 is the social sciences, statistics, political science, economics, law, education, and even some communication and transportation stuff. 400 is Language, including linguistics and information about individual languages. 500 is science, math, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and a bunch of other stuff. This was another well-traveled section of the library for me. 600 is technology (another favorite), medicine, engineering, manufacturing, and a bunch of stuff for the home: cookbooks, home repairs, and childcare. 700 is arts and recreation, architecture, design, painting, photography, music and sports. 800 is literature; 900 is history and geography.

The second and third numeral in a Dewey decimal are more specific. For example, let’s consider The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. It’s in six hundred (Technology) twenty (Engineering) nine (other branches of engineering). I can’t actually tell you what the decimals .1300922 mean. The Dewey Decimal system, or Dewey decimal classification and relative index, as it’s called, is actually a copyrighted and proprietary work. The closest copy to me is at the University of Texas Austin, and interestingly enough, doesn’t bear a Dewey decimal number on its spine.

Most university libraries — in the United States at least — use another major system called the Library of Congress Classification. This system has been around a long time but is newer than the one designed by Melvil Dewey in 1876. It was designed by Herbert Putnam in 1897 and actually borrowed a lot of ideas from Charles Cutter‘s Expansive Classification System, one that never really caught on.

The LCC uses the letters A through Z for its major classification. The Wright Brothers book can be found under TL (Motor vehicles, Aeronautics, and Astronautics) 540 (in the section for Aeronautics. Aeronautical engineering).

Both classification systems actually use additional information about the subject, title or author to arrive at a complete and unique identifier for a book. For example the LCC for The Wright Brothers includes W7 (the Cutter encoded value for Wr, short for Wright) M3825 (the Cutter encoded author name) 2015 (the publication year). I’ve seen Cutter encoded author names and publication years on Dewey spines as well.

There are other ways to catalog books too. Fiction is often organized by author name within a large classification: children’s, classics, science fiction, young adult, fantasy, you name it. Biographies are sometimes arranged by their subject, but they’re often sprinkled about the rest of non-fiction as well.

Each region and country around the world has its own dominant catalog system, as well as a rich history of other systems that have come and gone. Here’s a quick sampling for you: The Resource Description and Access system appears to be replacing the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd Edition at the university level in the UK, though Dewey still dominates public libraries there. Sweden has a letter based system called the SAB (Sveriges Allmänna Biblioteksförening), and the Nippon Decimal Classification and Korean Decimal Classification systems are similar to their Dewey ancestors. The Chinese Library Classification is the result of thousands of years of refinement. Seriously, you could get lost on the internet or in a library for days reading about this stuff.

In the end though, library classification systems throughout the world have more in common than they have differences. Dewey’s big trick is being able to sort books into broad categories based on that first numeral, but once you get used to it the letter-based systems do the same thing, just with more buckets.

The title of this podcast is The Tinycast. The author is Matt Croydon.

Music for today’s show includes Odyssey and Marty Gots a Plan by Kevin Macleod. You can hear more at incompetech.com. This episode also features Lullaby for a Broken Circuit by Andy Miccolis a.k.a. Quiet Music for Tiny Robots. You can find him at andy.miccolis.net.

Check out tinycast.in where you’ll find lots of links and information to stuff I couldn’t cover in a single episode. See also twitter @thetinycast, soundcloud.com/tinycast. You can find us at Dewey Decimal 006.7876, LCC TK 5105, and at podcast libraries everywhere. You’ll find me on Twitter, @mc. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Further Reading

Additional Music Info

“Odyssey” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

“Marty Gots a Plan” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

“Lullaby for a Broken Circuit” Quiet Music for Tiny Robots (freemusicarchive.org/music/Quiet_Music_for_Tiny_Robots/)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0


Further Reading

Full Transcript

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

I write software for a living. I write open source software for fun. Some of my favorite hobbies include, well, writing software.

When people write software they make mistakes. It happens. The word for these mistakes dates back to September 9th, 1947: a bug. That’s the day that a moth flew in to the Harvard Mark II computer and caused all kinds of problems. The term was popularized by the amazing Grace Hopper and it sticks with us today. These days it describes when we make a mistake writing software or when something doesn’t quite behave the way we designed it.

Sometimes bugs cause the wrong color to show up on your website.

Other times they kill people.

When I’m thinking about bugs, often particularly nasty bugs, my mind often wanders to Therac-25.

Therac-25 was a medical linear accelerator released in 1985. It’s the kind of machine used to treat cancer by shooting the right amount of radioactive particles at tumors. It was designed and built by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, a Canadian Crown corporation — essentially a company owned by the Canadian government.

Therac-25 wasn’t the first of its kind. It was actually based pretty heavily on the Therac-6 and reused some code from Therac-20. These two machines in turn were based on the Neptune and Sagittaire machines from a French company called CGR.

The Therac-25 was controlled by a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer — and by minicomputer I mean about the size of a dishwasher. The operator controlled Therac-25 with a VT-100 console, a box the size of a microwave with a screen for displaying text and a keyboard for entry. A series of keystrokes were used to drive a text-based menu system.

So what went wrong, exactly?

Well, Therac-25 operated in two different modes. One was a direct beam of energy at a lower dose. The other was a much higher megavolt x-ray that went through several different things that rotated in to place to make sure that the dose was correct and safe.

But there was a problem.

Actually there were a lot of problems.

There were so many problems with Therac-25 that it is often used as a case study in college curriculums from computer science to ethics.

There were bugs in the control software that caused at least three deaths and at least six massive radiation overdoses between 1985 and 1987. The individual bugs themselves weren’t actually the biggest problem. The same bugs had existed in the 6 and 20 models, but those models had a hardware interlock that prevented the higher energy mode from running without the spreader in place.

There were also problems with the way the project was managed, from initial development to the years it took to figure out what was going wrong. One of the problems was that software from the older machines was re-used. Software re-use is actually a big thing these days — the thought is that if there’s a library of stuff that a bunch of people use it’ll be better tested and have fewer bugs than if everybody writes their own version of everything.

But in this case re-use was bad, because bugs in the code had been masked by the hardware interlock. Therac-25 didn’t have one. The software was also written in PDP-11 assembly language, which is pretty hardcore and low-level compared to the nicer and much safer languages that a lot of software is written in these days.

There were other problems too. The testing procedures didn’t adequately cover how the hardware and software performed together. The initial reactions by AECL to the first reports of malfunctions were basically “that’s impossible.” The error messages were cryptic and not explained well or even at all in manuals and training. These errors also happened a lot, which led operators do hit the P key to proceed a lot without really thinking about it. Sometimes that was okay, sometimes it led to a lethal overdose of radiation.

The story of Therac-25 and its victims is a tragic one, but it’s also an opportunity to learn and to do better, whether you’re a software engineer, a project manager, industrial designer, a writer, or the operator of a machine.

You’ve been listening to The Tinycast, I’m Matt Croydon.

Music for today’s show includes Blimp Readout, B Mood, and Biplane by Podington Bear. You can hear more of his music at podingtonbear.com, buy his stuff at soundofpicture.bandcamp.com, and license his music for commercial projects at soundofpicture.com.

You can find us on the web at tinycast.in, where you can find links to more about Therac-25. We’re on twitter @thetinycast, soundcloud.com/tinycast, on Stitcher radio, and hopefully wherever you are. If you have any feedback about the show or if there’s an app or a place we’re not showing up, please get in touch and we’ll fix that bug. There’s a contact form on our website or you can hit me up on twitter, @mc. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Stegosaurus Notebook

Full Transcript

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

When I was a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I was given the best gift ever. It was a little notebook, but it wasn’t just any notebook. It was about the size of an index card. It was green. A really bright green. And on it, on the front cover, in a really bright yellow, was a stegosaurus. In bright yellow print, just below it, was the word stegosaurus, just in case you couldn’t figure it out on your own.

It was special.

It was actually too special.

I liked that notebook so much that I didn’t want to write or draw something inside it that wasn’t perfect. It deserved better than that.

And so it sat there.

I kept thinking about what I wanted to write in that notebook, but nothing worthy of it ever came to mind. I wrote in and on other things. I drew pictures and stuff like that. Just not in that notebook.

It sat there for years. On my bookshelf, and eventually in my “junk drawer,” a kind of catch all drawer in my dresser for stuff that didn’t have a better home. It lived alongside this sweet British Petrolium ashtray featuring a Brontosaurus, back from when the Brontosaurus was still a thing, and probably from that time after BP bought some assets from the Sinclair Oil Corporation on the east coast.

And it really just sat there for years. When I was in high school or so, I finally cleaned out my junk drawer, moving the most precious of stuff and memories to a box. I came across the stegosaurs notebook, and kinda thought about it for a second. And then I realized that I was never going to come up with something good enough for that notebook. I was never going to write or draw in that notebook.

So I threw it out.

I think about that notebook when I’m working on something and not calling it done because it’s not perfect. Or when I’m not working on something because I’m not sure how to make it perfect.

I’m thinking about it right now, as I’m talking to you, standing in front of a microphone in a walk-in closet. It’s why I’ll score this and mix this and release it before it’s perfect.

Because if I wait for it to be perfect, it will become a perfect stegosaurus notebook. Empty. In the trashcan.

This is Matt Croydon and you’re listening to The Tinycast. It’s a podcast that is short, sweet, and to the point. It may not be perfect but it’s fun to produce and I hope fun to listen to as well. If you have any thoughts or comments I’d love to hear from you.

Music for today’s show includes the instrumental versions of River Went Dry, Private Hurricane, and Crazy Glue by Josh Woodward. You can hear more of his music at joshwoodward.com.

You can find us on the web at tinycast.in, on twitter @thetinycast, soundcloud.com/tinycast, and at purveyors of podcast directories everywhere. You can find me on twitter, @mc. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.


Production Notes

Recorded in my walk-in closet with a Shure KSM-32 on the TASCAM DR-44WL in more takes than a four minute podcast requires. Mixed in Auria with Fabfilter Pro-C and Pro-Q on an iPad 3.




Full Transcript

There’s something you need to know about me.

I like airplanes.

A lot.

And airships and spaceships and helicopters and … yeah you get the picture.

And while I like airplanes in general, I have a special place in my heart for the weird ones. The misfits. The ones that make you wonder “how exactly is this thing flying?”

I also really like individual bits and pieces of airplanes, especially the weird ones.

I want to tell you about one of those weird pieces of airplanes, but it’s not on all airplanes and come to think of it not very many airplanes. It’s called a canard.

A canard is a small wing thing that goes in front of the main wing of an airplane, instead of the usual configuration with a main wing somewhere in the middle and a tail in the back doing things like stabilizing and controlling the airplane.

Canards actually had a lot going for them in the early days of aviation. The Wright Flyer, a little airplane you might remember from that thing it did in Kill Devil Hills on December 17, 1903 — was actually a canard biplane. But like steering by warping the wings, canards never really went mainstream.

The term canard actually comes from French folks, who thought early airplanes like Alberto Santos-Dumont’s quatorze-bis and Henri Fabre’s Hydravion kind of looked like the bill of a duck, with that wing sticking out in front.

After the early days though you don’t see a ton of canards except for experiments here and there. This really continues through both world wars, and canards don’t really see a ton of love until the jet age in planes like the XB-70 Valkrye, this crazy Mach 3 experimental bomber and the Saab 37 Viggen, a single seat fighter, attack, and recon plane.

Backing up a bit, a canard can actually do lots of different things. It can help control an airplane, like the Wright Flyer or the Eurofighter Typhoon. It can also act like a horizontal stabilizer. It is often used to stabilize fly-by-wire fighters, where you actually want a fairly unstable airplane in order to remain supermaneuverable. Sometimes it eliminates the need for a traditional tail altogether, other times it’s part of a three-surface configuration like the super sweet pusher turboprop Piaggio Avanti.

It can also be used to provide additional lift. This is the way that it’s often used in smaller experimental airplanes.

Okay, timeout. We’re talking about experimental aircraft and canards. It’s time to introduce you to Burt Rutan.

Burt Rutan is a prolific aircraft designer. He’s thought up over 350 aircraft designs and worked on 45 enough that they fly. His first design, the VariViggen, sported a canard. He’s designed a bunch of other unconventional aircraft that you might recognize. He designed the Voyager and GlobalFlyer nonstop around-the-world aircraft. He designed SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, the beautiful Beechcraft Starship, and hundreds more.

I’m a huge fan of his EZ family of small experimental homebuilts including the Vari-Eze and the Long-EZ. They’re lightweight made from fiberglass or carbon fiber. With a pusher engine in back, you actually collapse the front landing gear and park them on their nose, otherwise they’d fall over backwards.

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

Music for today’s show includes We Always Thought the Future Would Be Kind of Fun, Prelude 16, The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan, and Divider by Chris Zabriskie. You can find him at chriszabriskie.com or on Band Camp.

We are on the web at tinycast.in where you can check out links and pictures of airplanes with canards from my photostream. We’re on twitter @thetinycast, soundcloud.com/tinycast and the iTunes Podcast Directory. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Tiny Details: Here is my Spout

I love it when people sweat the details. The tiniest details. Even when it’s as seemingly insignificant as the spout on a teapot.


Full Transcript

I make a lot of tea. The British stuff to be exact. When we order tea in my house, it’s by the pound. Usually several of them.

I’ve made tea in everything from an inexpensive IKEA Tecken to the classic Brown Betty.

The hardest cuppa to make, for me at least, is the first one in the morning. It often involves squinting and the spilling of tea. That’s why we recently upgraded to The Tea Maker by Breville. It’s awesome.

It has a basket that raises and lowers automatically with lots of temperature and timing options that work for all types of tea. It also has a timer so you can have tea ready for you at a specific time.

All of the design and engineering that went in to this machine is impressive, but there’s just one tiny detail that I want to dwell on for a moment.

The glass kettle-pot itself is German Duran glass by Schott. It culminates in all of its borosilicate glory at the spout.

And what a spout it is. As a nerd pouring tea, I can appreciate the countless hours of fluid dynamics simulations that must have gone in to creating the perfect spout.

It never drips.

I’ve used this spout somewhere between dozens and hundreds of times and not once has it held on to an extra bit of tea or dripped unexpectedly. If you pour tea as often as I do, you know that this is pretty much the holy grail of spouts.

So let’s raise our cups, mugs, or glasses to the fine folks at Schott, for making what seems to be the perfect teapot spout.

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

Music for today’s show includes Montauk Point and Ice Flow by Kevin MacLeod. Hear more at incompetech.com

You can find us on the web at tinycast.in, on Twitter http://twitter.com/thetinycast. You can also find the show in the iTunes podcast directory or in the Podcasts app. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.


“Montauk Point” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

“Ice Flow” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Tiny Review: TASCAM DR-44WL


Full Transcript

Today it’s time for a Tiny Review of the TASCAM DR-44WL, a portable audio recorder that also has WiFi for remote monitoring, management, and audio retrieval. I’m going to share some general observations on the product as well as some specific and nerdy use cases and how it holds up to them. These use cases may only apply to one person on the planet: me.

I’ve had the DR-44WL for a few days now and I have been putting it through its paces. Definitely keep that in mind, as there may be some things that I’m still struggling with that may be second nature after awhile; or there might be some things that won’t bug me until I’ve experienced them over time.

It’s also worth noting that there are a couple of good video reviews of the DR-44WL by Max Yuryev on YouTube. These reviews are from the point of view of a digital video shooter and may be especially useful if that’s your context as well. There is also a thorough review in Japanese at AV Watch.

So first: general observations. Fit and finish are pretty solid, and they should be given that this is being positioned at the higher end of handheld recorders aimed at musicians. I think I actually prefer the rubberized plastic of the Zoom H4n but this doesn’t feel cheap either. Between its size and the click wheel interface it actually reminds me a lot of the original iPod with a couple of microphones on top.

It boots up pretty quick and the interface seems pretty sane. There are a lot of options but it’s pretty obvious where everything is. There have been a couple of times where I wasn’t sure if the option I wanted to change was accessed from the input button or the regular menu button, but I’m still getting a hang of things.

My biggest user interface gripe is probably the number of steps involved in changing input levels. First you hit the levels button, then select the channel or channels you want to adjust, then you rotate the knob on the side up or down.

The signature feature of the DR-44WL is its on-board WiFi and companion desktop and mobile apps for remote management and file transfer. This is actually the reason I returned the Zoom H4n and ordered the TASCAM instead. The story is pretty compelling: connect your phone to the recorder wirelessly and you can monitor levels, change settings, start and stop recordings, listen to and transfer files from the device.

The reality — at least at the time of this recording — is a little rougher than that. Getting started is easy: hit the WiFi button, connect to the recorder with your phone like it was a router or hotspot, and launch the DR-CONTROL app. My experience is with iOS which appears to be more complete than the Android app.

Once you are connected, setting levels is really easy and quick. The app also mimics the main screen, and if you’re recording, it will show you levels with about a half second to a second delay. Other settings are also easy to get to and change, probably a little quicker than changing them on the device itself.

You can also browse recordings, play them over the air, and copy them to your phone. The biggest bummer — again at the time of this recording — is that once the files have been copied to your phone the only things you can do with them are play them or send them to SoundCloud. There’s no “share sheet” or “open in”. I have mentioned this to TASCAM support but this pretty much kills my mobile production workflow. I also had the device lock up to the point that it wouldn’t respond to any input and I had to remove a battery in order to restart it.

I also wanted to talk about how the DR-44WL fares at making radio. The built-in stereo microphones seem solid. You can’t adjust them like you can some other recorders in this space, but they are in shock mounts which should help with handling noise. I also rented a couple of different microphones to see how well they did.

As I would expect, it handled a condenser shotgun microphone, the venerable Audio Technica 835b, really well. I read that they generally sound better with phantom power, so that’s what I used for my tests. I was able to get good levels (aiming for -11dB) with little to no noise by setting the recorder levels around 50.

It also did surprisingly well with the Shure SM7B, a dynamic studio microphone with notoriously low output that generally gives recorders and lower end audio interfaces fits. I think somewhere around 75 to 85 was the sweet spot for me in order to get good levels while right up on the mic without too much noise.

Somewhat predictably it didn’t handle a dynamic omni particularly well. I tested with the Rode Reporter, my stand in for an Electro Voice RE50, 635A, or the Beyerdynamic M58. I’ve seen video folks use these effectively outdoors in stand-ups without noticeable noise. Holding the microphone at chest height I had to crank it to 80 or 90 to get solid levels. If I bring the mic in closer I can get good levels around 70-75 but with more noise than I would like.

Stepping back a bit to the general user, I think this is a pretty solid recoder. I’m hoping that my biggest complaints — stability and content export — can be addressed over time with software updates. WiFi is really the differentiator here and could really help with a lot of use cases.

If you’re looking to make radio and prefer recording quality over the wireless feature, I suggest you look really closely at the DR-100MkII. An updated version of that with the same mic preamps and wireless functionality would probably be my dream device. You should also head over to Transom.org where tool master Jeff Towne has a bunch of articles on choosing recorders and microphones.

Check out the show notes for lots of links and audio samples too.

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.
On the web at tinycast dot in and on Twitter at thetinycast.
You can also find the show in the iTunes podcast directory and via the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.

Episode 12: Information Density



This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.

I listen to podcasts of every shape and size during my commute to and from work. There are long ones that sometimes take me a couple of days to get through. There are medium sized ones that I listen to as soon as they hit the streets. There’s something special about the short ones though, and that’s usually how I start my commute.

At first I thought it was the sheer length of these podcasts that attracted me but the more I think about it — the more I look at it — I think that I’m drawn to the information density. this is the amount of information conveyed in a particular amount of space or time. My two favorite short and dense podcasts are the NPR: Hourly News Summaray Podcast and the Marketplace Morning Report: First Edition. They’re almost always ready for me hot and fresh as I get on the train.

first let’s look at the NPR News podcast on a typical Monday morning: November 3rd 2014 at 8am Eastern. in four minutes and forty-five seconds this podcast covers the election, One World Trade Center opening for business, Syrian extremists attacking moderate rebels in the province of Idlib, an update on the crash of SpaceShipTwo, a rememberance of Tom Menino, the former mayor of Boston, news of a capsized boat off the cost of Turkey, abnormal weather conditions over the weekend, and an update on a recent lava flow in Hawaii.

Seriously, that’s nuts. That four minutes and forty-five seconds is chock full of information. Not a second is wasted. The facts are delivered rapid fire but it’s not really dry either. The election coverage includes a sound byte from a candidate and a mention of the other major party candidate for balance. The stories from New York, Syria, and Turkey and Maine include reports from the field. The inside baseball term for this is a stand-up.

To be fair, it doesn’t get much denser than that. The Marketplace Morning Report is nowhere near as dense, but it makes up for it by going a little deeper on a couple of stories. On that same Monday morning, the big story was Proctor and Gamble being forced to halt operations in Argentina. Coverage included an interview with Johnathan Fruin. HSBC reported profits, David Broncocchio did the numbers — he played the sad music — and the program ended with an interview with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, co-authors of a new book called For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice. Schultz has pledged to hire 10,000 veterans and their spouses in the next five years.

All of that in just six minutes and thirty-six seconds.

In deference to density and brevity I think that’s it for today’s tinycast. On the web at tinycast.in, on Twitter @thetinycast. You can also find the show in the iTunes podcast directory or in the Podcasts app on iOS. Episodes are also available at the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.